Where to find royalty-free images for commercial use (that aren't cheesy)

Camera on a tripod taking a photo of sunset

When it comes to bad, downright cheesy stock photos, you don’t have to look far to find them. A few years ago, #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob trended on Twitter bringing out lots of goofy examples, and the hashtag is still in use. Many graphic designers and marketers know exactly what you’re talking about if you reference “women laughing alone with salad” or “overexposed stock model Ariane.”

Presentations, blogs, and social media posts immediately have a greater impact when they include high-quality photos. They improve readability by breaking up walls of text, provide context to readers, and catch the reader’s eye. And, when you think about it, it’s one of the easiest additions you can make.

But whether you’re part of a large corporation or a buzzing start-up, at some point, you’ve probably spent too long scrolling through a sea of cheesy stock images feeling like all the options in front of you were without style and low quality.

Spending hundreds of dollars and hours seeking an image for commercial use is unsustainable. Luckily there are plenty of free resources on stock image sites that provide high-quality images (that aren’t cheesy). You just have to know where to look.

Basic usage principles for free stock images

But before we list some of our favorite websites, let’s take a look at some basic usage principles that stock photo sites use.

  • Royalty Free Photos: You can use these images without needing to pay any royalty or licensing fees.
  • Copyright Free Images: Copyright free images are images that aren’t copyrighted and that can be used by anyone.
  • Creative Commons: Creative Commons is where the artist has waived their rights to the work. While many stock photo sites have Creative Commons licenses, it’s helpful to double-check the terms of use, as some sites have added specific terms alongside their Creative Commons licenses.
  • CC0 License: An image that has a CC0, or Creative Commons Zero license, is one where the owner has relinquished their rights and made the image available to the public domain.
  • Public Domain Images: A public domain image is one that either never had a copyright or the copyright has expired. The image can be used by anyone for any purpose.
  • Attribution required: You must credit the work in order to use the image.
  • Membership options: You are required to sign-up to the site in order to use the royalty-free images. Some sites are free and others require a membership fee.
  • Commercial Use: You are allowed to use royalty-free images for business ventures and commercial projects of any kind.

Below are some of our favorite royalty-free stock sites for free pictures and stock videos that you can try.

Canva

Aside from thousands of high-quality, premium images, one key benefit of Canva Photos is that you can stay within the editor while choosing your image. Easily switch between images and colors without needing to toggle between various tabs.

As a design platform, Canva’s image library specializes in providing thousands of background images and textures that can easily hold text and other design elements on top of them.

Usage rules: Here’s an explanation of our license agreements on free elements.

Pexels

Photo by Tatiana from Pexels

Once you type a keyword into Pexels, you will be shown a carefully curated range of high-quality images from a variety of sources—and you won’t need to endlessly scroll to find what you are looking for. The website also incentivizes photographers to upload new photos, meaning you’ll always have access to fresh, new images.

Canva integrates with Pexels so you can import your favorite images to Canva.

Pexels has a dynamic range of close-up, cropped images. Whether it’s food, nature, or an office environment, the interesting angles in these images will captivate your audience.

Usage rules: Pexels License

Unsplash

Photo by Devon Devine via Unsplash

Unsplash serves up over three million free, dynamic, high-resolution images. There is also a handy Explore section which segments images into niche categories like Wallpapers, Nature Images, and Backgrounds.

If you’re looking for a wide range of nature and architecture images from around the world, Unsplash is for you.

Usage rules:Unsplash License

Pixabay

Photo by Pepper Mint via Pixabay

Pixabay offers over 2.6 million high-resolution images, as well as videos, music, and sound effects, that are available for commercial use. The image library includes illustrations and vector images, making it easy for graphic design teams to make alterations to graphics. Users can search the full library or start in Pixabay’s Curated Collections or Editor’s Choice sections.

Pixabay is a great place to look if you’re seeking lifestyle or nature images, or simply want an aesthetically pleasing background image.

If you have your eye on free images from Pixabay, integrate it into your Canva account to use those images in your designs.

Usage rules: Pixabay License

Gratisography

Photo from Gratisography

Gratisography seeks to provide a collection of free stock photos that are high-resolution and unique. You’ll find quirky, creative images of Volkswagen Beetles that look like dinosaurs alongside beautiful photos of architecture and nature.

If you’re specifically looking for silly images that have a bit more style to them than the usual bad stock photos, this may be the place for you. There’s even a Whimsical category.

PicJumbo

Photo by Viktor Hanacek via PicJumbo

PicJumbo offers lots of beautiful food images, flatlays, nature and landscape photos, business images, and more. PicJumbo founder Viktor Hanacek created the site when his photography kept getting rejected from other stock images sites.

With categories like Vintage, Fresh, and Space for Text, PicJumbo can help you quickly find an image to suit your needs.

StockSnap.io

Photo from StockSnap.io

When you’re looking for Instagram-worthy snaps, StockSnap.io provides the goods. StockSnap is designed to help you find the perfect image with ease. It does this by adding hundreds of new photos every week, revealing popular categories users searched for and which images are trending.

StockSnap.io is great for commercial purposes. Many of their high-resolution photos are set in office environments. StockSnap.io also has a great curation of desk flatlays.

Kaboompics

Photo from Kaboompics

Kaboompics was founded by Karolina Grabowska, a web designer from Poland. While this photo library is a lot smaller than most, it’s clear that each photo has been chosen with a photographic eye. With some of the best flatlay images we’ve seen, Kaboompics provides bright and lively images that are perfect as a visual aid to any design.

Kaboompics specializes in lifestyle and scenery shots. No need for bloggers to worry about taking their own images, these images are perfect for any visual platform.

Usage rules:Kaboompics License

Life of Pix

Photo from Life of Pix

Life of Pix is the creative destination where cool contributors share their images. One scroll through the website instantly has you longing for a road trip—camera in hand. Life of Pix also serves as a digital mood board, allowing users to create their own portfolio, and follow favorite photographers.

If you want to take your image search one step further, Life of Pix has a sister website, Life of Vids, with free stock video, short clips, and video loops. All can be easily downloaded if you have a Vimeo account.

Usage rules: All images are donated to the public domain, with no copyright restrictions except for mass distribution.

Flickr

Photo by the National Library of Medicine via Flickr

Flickr is a slightly different resource when it comes to finding free images. It was created as a photo sharing site in 2004 and eventually allowed users to share their images under Creative Commons. The site includes photos categorized under eight different types of Creative Commons licenses, including CC0 public domain images.

Flickr can be a great place to find vintage ads and illustrations and historic images. The site includes collections from the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and other cultural and government institutions.

Integrate Flickr with Canva to access all your favorite images within your Canva designs.

Amazing marketing materials without the cheesy stock photography

When stock images have creative cropping and perspectives, are less staged, and aren’t so popular they’re found on all your competitors' sites, your marketing materials will look less cheesy and more original. Wherever your stock photos come from, Canva makes it easy to upload them and create amazing designs to promote your business. With thousands of free and paid templates, you can quickly make flyers, social media content, presentations, and more.

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